Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bird watching

The Bureau Chief can watch birds out his office windows without rising from his chair, which is lucky since, given his non-energetic ways, he otherwise wouldn’t do any bird watching at all. And we are not talking about sparrows on the lawn (there isn’t any lawn). We are talking about Red-tailed Hawks, flying in lazy circles on the thermals, looking for small mammals to eat and huge Ravens, doing aerobatics in pairs this time of year. Apparently it’s the start of mating season.

There are also exotic looking migratory birds during this time of short days. Our uphill neighbors have a fig tree which overhangs our fence a little. It’s a magnet for the traveling fliers. I’ve taken photos two years in a row now. Get out your bird books!

These two are from 2008:

These two are from this year:

The sky is gray and the figs are less plentiful this year but the birds are more colorful. I have decided that this is not a metaphor for anything.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Wonderfully Odd Shaped Object

Marcel Carné’s “Drôle de drame ou L’étrange adventure du Docteur Molyneax” (1937) is very odd indeed. The great director (“Les enfants du paradis”) directs a script by the great poet and fine screenwriter Jacques Prévert, with some of the best French actors of the time. Michel Simon, Jean-Louis Barrault, Louis Jouvet, and Françoise Rosay play a bunch of daffy Edwardian English people, in a crazed farce set in London, in French!

Hollywood has a long standing convention of portraying stories set in other countries with American actors speaking English. I found it quite amusing to see the French version of this, particularly given the incestuously tangled millennium-long relationship between the French and the English.

It took me a minute or two to get in sync with this convention and with the frantic pace and broad style of the film but then I went with it. It’s strange and very funny and has a black heart filled with fine 1930’s contempt for the Bourgeoisie.

It has a murderer who only kills butchers, an imperturbable Chinese mugger who steals flowers, a singing milkman and a narcoleptic reporter. Louis Jouvet is particularly good as a hypocritical Anglican bishop. His finest moment involves Scottish attire. I will say no more except that the DVD is available on Netflix.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


When Madame Le Chef and I were visiting friends in the Loire Valley in 2008, they suggested that we go see the town of Richelieu. Although I had heard of the famous Cardinal, I knew nothing about the town. Turns out the town was the ancestral home of the Cardinal and, at the height of his power, when he was running France for Louis XIII, he had a new town built on top of the old one. It was constructed between 1631 and 1642, which seems like pretty fast work for a whole town. It is walled, with a moat around it, and designed on a strict grid plan. Next to the town, Cardinal Richelieu built a huge palace, set in a correspondingly large park.

The town is still there and the park is still there but the palace was dismantled and sold off as building material in the 19th Century. Apparently it was not a political act. A real estate agent just wanted to make some money. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Except for cars and no merde in the streets, the town preserves its 17th Century appearance.

The Cardinal presides over the parking lot at the entrance to the park.

There are remaining outbuildings, gardens and canals but there does seem to be some huge thing missing.

The woods have vistas carved into them that are vaguely ominous.

The evidence of what was there.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Fall

At the beginning of the year I reviewed three films that were medium, but worth seeing, because they contained fantastic performances. “The Fall” is also medium yet worth seeing, but for the director’s extraordinary visual abilities, not for an actor's amazing performance. (Having said that, there is a very good performance by child actress Catinca Untaru.)

The director, Tarsem Singh, makes his living directing ads and videos but has done two features. “The Fall”, his second feature, was shot between other work, during a period of several years. He searched all over the world for places and structures that were visually arresting but not recognizable to the general audience. He succeeded. Supposedly there are no computer generated shots in the film although there must have been some practical effects.

The plot concerns a Hollywood stuntman from the 1920s who’s in a hospital with badly damaged legs because of a fall. He can’t get out of bed. He tells a story to a little girl who is in the same hospital with a broken arm, also from a fall, and who runs through the building, exploring it. The girl visualizes the story as he tells it and these are the amazing images that we see, including her wonderful confusion of “Indians” and “Indians”.

The story has some dark twists and turns but finally can’t equal the visuals. Still, they are enough.

Monday, November 2, 2009


When I first heard about, “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”, which is the name of a current documentary about a Canadian Heavy Metal band, I was struck by its title’s structural similarity to “kittens Inspired by kittens” which is a 1:32 minute YouTube video narrated by a very little and very energetic girl. It turns out there is more than a grammatical similarity between the two documents. They are both very sweet, and the sweeter of the two is the one about the Heavy Metal band.

It’s about a 30 year friendship, family, love, art, aspiration, failure and mortality. Hey, it rocks.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

New Lands

Recently The Bureau has been more of a photo blog and less of a movie review blog. I predict it will soon lurch back toward reviews but in the mean time, more photos.

In San Francisco, in the last couple of decades, a new neighborhood has been created out of an emptied industrial landscape that stretches along the shore of the Bay south of King Street. It’s called Mission Bay/South Beach. Its two most notable landmarks are the Giant’s baseball stadium and a new campus for UCSF (the medical school for the UC system). We recently walked around the area.

A Richard Serra sculpture on the UCSF campus.

A relic from when this was a thriving shipping and industrial area.

The UCSF Recreation Center where Madame Le Chef takes swimimg classes.

Where Mission Creek emerges from under the city streets and flows into the Bay.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


For those who miss Autumn back East, I include two pictures from earlier this week. The first is from Richmond, VA and the second is from Monticello, outside of Charlottesville VA.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Location, Location

When I first moved to San Francisco, I was totally absorbed in suddenly being in feature films. I went from Bernal Heights to North Beach, were the film I was working on was being edited and edited and edited, and back again. It took years before I began to know other neighborhoods of the city. I noticed that there were no cemeteries, with the exception of the military one in the Presidio and the tiny graveyard next to Mission Dolores. I found out that the cemeteries were all in Colma, a small town south of San Francisco where the dead outnumber the living by a factor of thousands to one.

Only when I started to read about San Francisco’s history did it occur to me to wonder if the city fathers had banned cemeteries in the city from the very beginning (which would make them the most foresighted bunch in the history of humans) or just what happened.

Like every other developing city in 19th century America, San Francisco had cemeteries very early on and, inevitably, they had to be moved as the city expanded. San Francisco had an additional problem in that the amount of real estate was limited by the fact that it is bounded by water on three sides. Finally, in the early 20th century, the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance forbidding burials in San Francisco. Then, in the 1930s and the early 1940s, the residents of all the cemeteries in the city (with the exception of the two mentioned) were evicted, hauled in trucks to Colma, and re-interred.

If the dead person’s descendants could be found and if the family had the money (this was the Depression) a plot and a headstone could be purchased. Otherwise, the migratory dead were buried en masse. I was reminded of this recently when I went on a tour of Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery. In addition to the graves and family vaults of various notables, including Joltin’ Joe Di Maggio, there was a large plot of grass adorned with a single modest monument to the 39,000 dead who had made the trip to this hillside in Colma.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Bureau of Shameless Plugs

The chef du bureau wears several hats, one of which is amateur historian and member of the Bernal History Project. In this capacity I recently appeared in a radio piece on KALW, backed by a chorus of barnyard animals. The show is 25 minutes long and the Bernal Heights segment comes at around the 20 minute mark.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

NYC August 2009

The machine that is the Bureau of Odd Shaped Objects runs at a stately pace, so it is only now that I have turned my bureaucratic attention to the trip that Madame Le Chef and I took to NYC last month. We were happily surprised by two recent works that we saw. The first was the newly opened High Line. The city has built a park on the tracks of a defunct West Side elevated rail line. It is currently open from 20th St. down to Gansevoort St. and gives one the pleasure of walking in a park which is a couple of stories in the air. You see building from angles impossible before and even a distant glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. They’ve also given retro New Yorkers the ability to bask in the carcinogenic rays of the sun.

The other discovery was a multimedia piece at MOMA by Chinese artist Song Dong in collaboration of his since deceased mother. Having lived through the deadly history of modern China, his mother saved absolutely everything. The piece consists of the immense collection of often virtually worthless objects arranged in and around the skeleton of her house. It’s strangely fascinating.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Doggerel for the old dogs

Wanting to be a better chef du bureau, I attempted to audit a Creative Writing course at San Francisco State. The instructor agreed to let me audit but it was later kiboshed at the department level. I understood. Paying students were desperate to keep their full time status in the face of so many courses being eliminated because of huge state budget cuts. Why should a state with the 10th biggest economy on the planet and a population of 37 million people bother to educate its next generation?

Anyway, the assignment from the one class I attended was to write a manifesto. This is it.


Manifestos are for the young, the firebrands, the visionaries, the mad artists and the drunken poets.

Baudelaire wrote, “Stay drunk! On wine, poetry or virtue, as you please!”

But I saw the best minds of my generation tear gassed while tripping on acid, going to jail, enduring broken hearts in cold climates, forced to get jobs.

I saw them marrying, buying houses, sending their kids to college, worrying about their health plans and those goddam Republicans.

I saw them realizing that the older you get, the more dead people you know.

I saw you, Allen Ginsberg, in 1969, dressed like a sadhu, playing a harmonium and chanting Blake off key.

25 years on I saw you again, wearing a nice sportcoat, surrounded by acolytes, walking through the food court of a shopping mall in San Francisco. A few years later you were dead.

The manifestos of the older set tend to lack élan vital.

“I have had my fun if I never get well no more.”

After a certain age, manifestos are replaced by memories:

“These foolish things remind me of you.”

And elegies:

“Earth, receive an honored guest: William Yeats is laid to rest.”

Better those than admonitions and sage advice, because no one listens to that shit.

Maybe there can be mini-manifestos: “I shall not wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled”; “I will dare to eat a peach!”

No. Too much like cocktail wieners, lacking the flavor of the full sized sausage.

Wait! It’s almost lunchtime.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Terra Incognita

When Madame Le Chef and I decided that this was not the right year for a trip to France, we planned a car trip to visit friends in Oregon. Instead of reading up on Oregon like we do on France, we decided to wing it. Normally I’m a strong advocate of the supremacy of knowledge over ignorance but in this case we had a series of delightful surprises.

It turns out that the unknown land (to us) started just north of Sacramento, a flat, sun-baked area with temperatures in the hundreds (this was not delightful). It dropped down into the 90s as we climbed into the mountains and soon we had our first pleasant surprise---Mt. Shasta. It’s not only very tall but relatively isolated, so it is visible on and off, from Interstate 5, for what seemed about 100 miles.
We broke our journey in Ashland, OR and the next day drove up to Portland to enjoy the hospitality of our friends. It turned out that the next pleasant surprise was only a 35 minute drive outside of Portland---the gorge of the Colombia River. The gorge itself is beautiful but the waterfalls along it’s banks are truly spectacular. Multnomah Falls, the tallest, has been a tourist attraction since the turn of the last century.
We made a two day side trip to the Oregon sea coast where the weather was unfortunately similar to San Francisco summer weather (foggy, cold and windy) but the landscape was magnificent. On our way back to Portland we stopped at Cannon Beach which has a big rock, appropriately named The Haystack, rising out of the surf.
The final wonder was a crab sandwich from the South Beach Fish Market which is on RT. 101 just south of Newport Or. They put a quarter pound of steamed, picked crab on sliced sourdough with just mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato---sublime simplicity.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rififi (Du rififi chez les hommes)

This is a 1955 French crime drama by blacklisted American director Jules Dassin. It earned him the best director award at Cannes that year. There seems to have been a two-movie wave of French gangster films with odd slang in their titles, in the middle 50s. The other was Jacques Becker’s “Touchez pas au grisbi” (1954).

Although “grisbi” seems to be actual French slang, “rififi” may have been made up by Auguste Le Breton, the author of the novel that the film was based on. It seems to mean something like “rough and tumble”. The term was obscure enough that Dassin inserted a goofy but enjoyable nightclub song and dance number in the film to explain it.

Rififi was shot on location in Paris, in the winter. The black and white photography is beautiful. After a certain amount of time has passed, any film shot on location has a second existence as a historical record (have I said that before?). It’s a pleasure to see Paris in 1955.

The movie is famous in film nerd circles for the long safe-cracking scene done with no dialogue or music, that is wonderfully tense and enthralling. Interestingly, the above mentioned passage of time has made another scene even more intense for the 2009 viewer. A wonderfully good natured and oblivious five year old boy, outfitted with a cowboy hat and a plastic gun, is being driven home by a gangster who is not in good shape. They are in a convertible with the top down. The kid is jumping back and forth and climbing over the seat.

I knew that the car was most likely being towed and the camera truck was right beside it but I kept thinking, “The kid is going to fall out!” and “Why isn’t he in his god damned car seat?” Oh.

This is an excellent movie.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (Le Caire nid d’espions)

OSS 117 is a French secret agent, with the wonderfully absurd name of Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, who is the central character of an astonishing number of French spy novels cranked out by Jean Bruce (91 books), his widow Josette (143 books) and two of her children (24 books). The family must have owned a magical sausage-making/novel-writing machine. The first book came out in 1949 and a series of films based on the books was made in the 50s and 60s. (Thank you Wikipedia.)

When a group of French filmmakers decided to reanimate Agent OSS 117 in 2006, they brought him back to make fun of him, and they succeeded. Although they don’t cop to it in the DVD extras, they had to have seen Don Adams in the “Get Smart” TV shows, since OSS 117 exhibits the same level of totally unjustified self regard as Maxwell Smart. The 2008 film version of “Get Smart” got rather mixed reviews from the critics, so if you’re hankering for idiot spies go directly to OSS 117.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tell No One

This French thriller (in French, “Ne le dis à personne”) was one of the few films Mme Le Chef and I saw in a theater last year and we enjoyed it very much. We recently watched it again on DVD and it wasn’t diminished in any way. We were amused that after two viewings we still couldn’t follow every twist and turn in the plot, but that doesn’t matter.

The film is by Guillaume Canet and is based on an American novel by Harlan Corben. It’s peopled with well delineated characters who are played by an excellent cast. Our hero, the beleaguered Dr. Beck, is played by François Cluzet, who bears an unfortunate resemblance to a young Dustin Hoffman, but is a good enough to make us forget that. The other main male actors are also excellent but the actresses are amazing.

In one film you get both Kristin Scott Thomas and Natalie Baye in supporting roles. These are two of the best actresses on the planet. You also get the delicious Marie-Josée Croze and, in a small role, an unknown actress named Mikaela Fisher. She’s on screen for maybe five minutes and establishes one of the scariest villains I’ve seen in a long time. The actress is freaky looking; skinny, wiry, elongated, androgynous. I can’t tell if it’s really good type casting or good acting but her character is one of things you’ll surely remember about the film.

Intelligent, entertaining thrillers are far rarer then they should be, so if you haven’t seen “Tell No One”, put it on your Netflix queue (svp).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

We Are Not Alone, Unless Maybe We Kinda Are

When Madame Le Chef was getting her undergraduate degree at San Francisco State, she was lucky enough to take classes from both Debra Fischer and Geoff Marcy. Since then these two astronomers, along with Paul Butler, have discovered 70 of the first 100 planets orbiting other stars. This past Saturday, Professors Fischer and Marcy gave a talk, which Mme Le Chef and I attended. It was very interesting.

Professor Fischer first explained the techniques (very ingenious) and the difficulties of detecting extrasolar planets and then Professor Marcy discussed current views on microbial life on “Earthlike” extrasolar planets and “technological” life (us) on same. There seems to be a strong consensus among exobiologists that microbial life is extremely likely to exist on “Earthlike” extrasolar planets and a growing feeling that “technological” life on those planets might not be very common at all.

The reason that basic life is thought likely is that there are many organisms on Earth that live in environments no less harsh than those on other planets. Prime examples are the algae and other organisms found in the boiling, sulfuric-acid laden water of the Yellow Stone geysers.

The reason for the growing doubt about numerous technological civilizations out there, is the total lack of evidence for their existence. Project SETI has been listening for alien transmissions for 40 years and has heard nothing. We have mapped the surfaces of the Moon and Mars and found zero alien probes or observation posts and, despite the claims of legions of whack-a-doodles, the same goes for Earth. There are numerous telescopes, with sensors across the entire spectrum of energy, looking out into space and there are no positive results---not even some gamma rays from a matter/antimatter drive.

Of course in order for us to detect another technological society, its time frame would have to overlap with ours and that could be very difficult. Professor Marcy did not get into our species’ history but I was struck by the thought that agriculture was only developed 10,000 years ago and cities were settled only 4000 (or perhaps 6000) years ago. In that short time (from a galactic point of view) we overpopulated the planet and developed multiple technologies that could destroy us. We could pop on and off the possible alien sensors when no one is looking, and so could they.

During the question period someone asked the “what if” question. What if the aliens weren’t like us and so we would not recognize their emanations. Professor Marcy revealed his Star Trek fanboy status by replying, “Yes, like the Horta.” He then pointed out that there are many creative people who can think of many possibilities but that as scientists they have to narrow things down so they can search for indications that are detectable with our current instruments. It’s up to the Horta to reveal themselves.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In Bruges

Martin McDonagh’s screenplay for this movie was nominated for an Oscar, demonstrating that the Academy gets some things right from time to time. He also directed it. It’s his first feature and it’s good, very dark and very funny.

The actors playing the three principal characters, who are all professional killers, are excellent. Colin Farrell plays Ray, who’s a bit dim, but has enough going on upstairs to be racked by guilt for killing an innocent bystander in an assassination gone wrong. Brendan Gleeson plays his partner/handler Ken, who’s worn down and sad but is trying to enjoy the Medieval wonders of the Belgium town of Bruges, where the two are hiding out. Ralph Fiennes plays their boss, Harry. Speaking of things Medieval, Harry is the exemplar of the Choleric humor. He’s full of wrath.

The other characters are equally well written and well played by actors unknown to me. They include a local drug dealer (Clémence Poésy), her client (Jordan Prentice), who’s a dwarf actor with a particular interest in Ketamine and also all other known recreational drugs. There’s also the pregnant owner (Thekla Reutan) of the hotel where Ray and Ken are staying. The latter radiates a degree of probity and goodness not seen since Chief Marge Gunderson squeezed her pregnant body into a police cruiser in “Fargo”.

There’s actually a tiny bit of probity in each of the three killers as well, which causes them to act against their own pure self-interest. This quality makes us care about them (or at least about Ray and Ken) at the same time that we are laughing at this company of clowns. This is a clever, enjoyable movie.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Guttering Candle of Memory

In my memory Lee’s chicken was “Krispy” or, more specifically, “Krispy (Spicy)”. I just looked at their web site and it’s merely “Crispy Spicy”. How can they be missing the opportunity to use the wonderful American word “Krispy”? Unless, perhaps, that word is owned by another corporation. Krispy Kreme!?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Krispy Reality

Faithful readers may recall my paean last June to the wonders of Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken. I was just back in Richmond VA and this time remembered to take a picture of one of the emporia of “Krispy” delight. Now back in San Francisco I was about to post the picture when I decided to see what kind of online presence Lee’s has. I had assumed it was a small Richmond chain so I was taken aback by a very slick corporate web site.

It turns out that Famous Recipes, INC. has hundreds of Lee’s outlets around the country (and in Trinidad!?). I admit I’m a little disappointed. The fantasy of the funky little local chain is much more attractive than the reality of a medium sized corporation but the Krispy chicken is just as good, even if it’s not a hidden treasure.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Waltz with Bashir

I, along with almost all the rest of the American movie audience, have avoided the recent, undoubtedly earnest, Hollywood efforts about the current war in Iraq or, more specifically, about our servicemen and women returning from there. I’m going to wait until we’ve actually gotten out of that hideous morass before I check to see whether someone can manage to produce an artistic response to it.

It’s been almost 27 years since the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and that was enough time for Ari Folman to make an amazing work of art about that war.

“Waltz with Bashir” is a strange but wonderful hybrid. It’s an animated, autobiographical documentary filled with dreams and visions. Its mix of black humor and pop music is worthy of some of the more successful parts of “Apocalypse Now”.

The main character is Ari Folman and we see him as the 19-year-old Israeli Defense Force conscript he was then and as the middle-aged man he is now. A friend who served with him in Lebanon tells him about his own recurring dream of the war and Folman realizes that he has no memories of the war and just one dream about it -- a dream of bathing in the Mediterranean at night with two other soldiers, all naked but still armed with their assault rifles. They are looking back at Beirut and watching illumination rounds exploding over high-rise apartments.

The plot of the film is his search for his lost memories. He listens to a lot of fellow veterans’ stories before he recovers his own. I highly recommend this film.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


In Gus Van Sant’s “Milk”, Sean Penn seems to have been possessed by the ghost of Harvey Milk. Early on I lost the sense of an actor playing an historical figure and just watched scenes from the life of that character. This is an amazing performance. An insightful friend pointed out that Penn seems like another person because he is being charming (Milk was famously charming). This is the first time Penn has given a charming performance since playing Spicoli in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” in 1982.

“Milk” is a good movie but it is impossible to say just how good at this time since it has political reverberations way beyond its worth as a work of art. This is the film biography of the first openly Gay politician in California. Harvey Milk’s central message was that the way to achieve Gay civil rights was by Gay people coming out so that straight people would see them not as “the other”, but as their child, their neighbor, their coworker, etc. He campaigned for various offices for years before finally becoming a San Francisco Supervisor. He was assassinated less then a year later along with Mayor George Moscone.

His message has particular resonance now since the voters of California recently passed a ballot initiative, Prop 8, which robs Gay people of the right to marry, a civil right only recently given them by the State Supreme Court. We can assume that the yes votes for the initiative were from people who continue to see Gay people as “the other”.

I believe that Prop 8 will be overturned either in the courts or in the voting booth and I suspect that 10 years from now, “Milk” will be seen as a skillfully done biography of a fascinating historical figure, in a very interesting time and place, but I don’t think it will be seen as a great film.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Wrestler

This is the least of the three films I mentioned in my post. The director,
Darren Aronofsky, mostly abandons the astonishing visual apocalypses he created in “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream” to tell the story of an aging wrestler at the end of his career. The one apocalyptic eruption is the bout that sends our hero, Randy “The Ram” Robinson, into a major health crisis. Since I hate spoilers I’ll merely say it’s how I imagine “The Passion of the Christ” (didn’t actually see that film) but with a staple gun added.

Many critics have pointed out the Mickey Rourke is physically perfect for the part of Randy since his face is bloated and distorted from decades of excess, from being broken in the boxing ring and from being badly reconstructed by plastic surgeons. However his body is still buff so you believe him as an athlete.

Rourke plays Randy as a nice guy who is also an enormous screwup and it is a wonderful performance. I have to give a nod to Mick LaSalle, the often insightful, sometimes annoying film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, who points out that if that’s who Mickey Rourke really is (nice guy/ screwup) then he does a great job of allowing us see that and if in reality he’s a monster then he does a great job of making us think he’s a nice guy.

Randy has destroyed his relationship with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) whom he loves and he is having a hard time establishing a relationship with a lap dancer (Marisa Tomei) whom he also loves. His only moments of transcendence are in the staged mayhem of the wrestling ring, even though this is very bad for his aging body. It’s finally a simple tale. There’s a scene with Tomei and Rourke right before the climax of the movie that seems tacked on and inauthentic. That’s unfortunate but does not keep this from being a good movie, worth seeing.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I’ve Loved You So Long

This is a French film by Philipe Claudel who also wrote it. Kristin Scott Thomas (who has lived in that country for a couple of decades and is bilingual) stars in it and she is astounding. She plays a woman who has just gotten out of prison after serving 15 years for murder. When we first see her she is sitting in a waiting room. She is a person from whom everything has been taken. She is still except for the act of smoking. She’s there but she’s been turned into a wraith.

Her younger sister is coming to take her into her home. The story of the film is the story of the older sister starting to get things back---coming back to life.

Fairly early in the film she allows a café Lothario to pick her up for an afternoon quickie. This is presumably the first heterosexual sex she’s had in 15 years. The director cuts straight from the café to the hotel room where they are already finished and the man is dressed. He comes out of the bathroom. She is sitting up in bed, staring into space. Bozo that he is, he smiles and says, “So, it was good?” She comes out of her reverie and replies, “No, not at all. But it doesn’t matter.” He’s crushed and slinks out. She gives the slightest hint of a smile. There’s still someone inside.

The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent. The film is both moving and funny. The only thing that keeps it from being great is that when all the details of the killing that sent her to prison are finally revealed, it comes perilously close to Douglas Sirk territory. Having said that, I already want to see the film over again, which is not how I feel about most things I see.

The Jewel and the Setting

19th Century writers were wonderfully unembarrassed to elaborate a metaphor. They could go on for pages. Here at the beginning of the 21st Century I’m hesitant to use one at all, but here goes.

I’ve recently seen three good films with great performances, real jewels, shining at their centers. They are “Milk”, “The Wrestler” and “I’ve Loved You So Long”. I’m going to make each review into its own post.